|Ancient crypts in New Orleans, Louisiana|
’Tis the season to be haunted: With the autumnal breezes come shorter days, longer nights, and the harkening of Halloween. As one of the oldest holidays celebrated around the world, Halloween is also the only one that revolves around death, ghosts, and general spookiness. For those curious about where the creepiest of the creepy places are in this
relatively young country of ours, fear not! This great land has its fair share of spine-tingling destinations. While ghostly activities may not be a guarantee, the mystique of these destinations alone can enchant naysayers and enrapture the true believers. Here are our top five creepiest towns in America.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Few cities conjure up a creepy atmosphere as palpable as the Big Easy. Mired in a long and sometimes seamy history, New Orleans has been home to slaves and slave drivers, pirates, and—as some will affirm without pause—ghosts. The French Quarter, site of the city’s founding in 1718, is a dense neighborhood of narrow streets and unique wrought-iron and wooden architecture—a prime stomping ground for displaced souls.
Voodoo and Santería, two Afro-Caribbean religions practiced here, have greatly contributed to the city’s mystical atmosphere. Then again, the sprawling graveyards where dead are “buried” in cement vaults below sea level—not the most stable final resting place—have certainly done their part, too. But Royal Street’s LaLaurie House holds the title for the most haunted mansion: it’s the 19th-century home of a reputed serial killer of slaves. The ghosts of the wicked lady of the house, Delphine LaLaurie, and her victims are said to still make appearances today.
Charleston, South Carolina
It’s one of the oldest cities in the United States, and one of the most haunted. They say ghosts from the Civil War patrol some of the steeple-lined lanes of Charleston, while the Battery plays home to some of those lost during the slave trade. The city’s beautiful old Southern architecture makes it worth a visit in any case. Consider a stop into the 1869 Dock Street Theater, especially if you want to try for a backstage glimpse of Nettie, a young lady killed here by a lightning strike in the 1800s, and Junius Brutus Booth, father of assassin John Wilkes Booth.
Also called the “Holy City” for its abundant churches, Charleston’s graveyards are regular hotspots for apparitions—but not as much as the Old City Jail, where brutal killings took place and allegedly left some angry spirits who aren’t afraid to push tour goers around, literally.
|Witch house in Salem, Massachussetts|
Few American cities are so famous for a sordid past as Salem. Its nickname “Witch City” comes from the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, when 19 men and women were accused of witchcraft and hanged, and 150 more were arrested and charged. Today, this town of 41,000 residents throws one of the country’s biggest Halloween celebrations, including the annual Festival of the Dead which “explores death’s macabre customs, heretical histories, and strange rituals.”
Salem is also home to the Joshua Ward House, said to be one of America’s most haunted houses since being built atop the grave of the witch trials’ malevolent high sheriff. The grave was eventually relocated, but the ghostly phenomena persist.
Key West, Florida
Once the richest city in North America, Key West was long a prime layover point for pirates terrorizing the Gulf of Mexico and looting the wrecked ships along the Florida reef. The island was remarkably isolated until a new railway linked it to the mainland in 1912. That meant years with buccaneers and rum-runners free to plunder as they liked, with local authorities only occasionally catching up with them. Executions were the only recourse for these savage souls, and bodies wound up in the local morgue, where now stands the allegedly haunted Captain Tony’s Saloon. The “hanging tree” outside made for a short distance to transport the bodies.
Creepy Key West also got a bump from one of the island’s most legendary residents: Robert the Doll. Many claim this oversized doll is possessed, and spent nights pacing and throwing furniture around the room where he lived in the early 1900s. Drop by the Art and Historical Society to see him, and be ready for your hair to stand on end. Don’t forget a quick visit to Ernest Hemingway’s former abode, where some say you can still hear his typewriter ticking away.
Local lore says that plenty of centuries-old ghosts have settled in Savannah among the great mossy oak trees, Gothic mansions, and aging cemeteries. Once voted America’s most haunted city by the American Institute of Parapsychology, this seaport has served everyone from pirates to bootleggers to Civil War soldiers, many of whom were buried here. The only problem is that much of the city was built atop some of those centuries-old graveyards, making it a busy scene for ghostly sightings.
The Moon River Brewery and Mercer House (setting for the 1997 film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) have their share of ghost stories, but it’s the 1796 Hampton Lillibridge House that had to call in the exorcists—apparently to no avail.
By Kelsy Chauvin